Funny business, this funny business!
The question of bums on seats, artistic integrity, and nostalgia are all mixed up for us at the moment!
Just recently we performed our “Goldilocks” show to full houses at the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton, and at Watermans in South London on consecutive days, and as far as we could tell, everyone left feeling happy, having had an uplifting experience. We also left the theatres feeling happy and uplifted, though for the additional reasons that this show was more or less the same one we devised in 1983, being our first attempt at a non-Punch and Judy piece for children. That’s right… the show is 34 years old, and the first one we thought of! We continue to perform it from time to time because the title draws people in, and the show itself still works its magic.
Naturally we’ve devised and performed lots of different shows since then, and in a variety of styles, often stretching ourselves artistically, and pushing the artform a bit as we have done so. We’ve included table-top puppets with the operators visible, we’ve become characters ourselves acting with puppets, and we’ve used state of the art technology with sound, lights, and projections. Our background is in fine art and performance art as well as being interested in folk and popular forms of expression. So why is it that a simple glove puppet show with live music has such a strong and satisfying effect on the audiences?
If we had the complete answer to the winning formula we’d bottle it and sell it, but for now, this is what we think:
Despite all the advances in childrens’ theatre and puppet theatre in particular, there remains a truism that “what’s old becomes new” to a new generation. Being brought up with screens, and being over-familiar with the apparently interactive media, glove puppets with the puppeteer hidden appear to children to be more magical and direct than ever. Obviously we think that the way we do it is key to the show’s success, but that’s not for us to judge. It’s quite amusing to think of the billions being spent on developing 3D interactive immersive experiences when as far as our audiences are concerned, they experience exactly that with a few cloth characters and a hurdy-gurdy.
The story is a good one too, as all the children know it, and feel safe with the knowledge. Maybe it helps that the main character is a feisty female, and a naughty one too. We play it for laughs to an extent, but also concentrate on the drama, so that all the characters are believable. There is repetition, and familiarity, but we also add a humorous villain who gets his comeuppance with the collusion of Goldilocks, the bears and the audience. The story is innocent and the form of the glove puppets is naive, which is on the right wavelength for any child who chooses to come to a show with the title “Goldilocks”. There is eye-contact from Su who acts as the narrator and musician, and this format of interpreter for the puppets is a traditional one. Because we were coming at this from having mad our living busking with puppets, there are plenty of bits of tried and tested visual gags which we would think twice about putting in new shows these days. But they work, and provide belly-laughs for children. And that sound of laughter, coupled with the sound of pin-drop silence as they watch the other sequences with baited breath, is the best sound in the world.
Successful as it is, we may very likely drop this show from the repertoire at the end of the year, so I was going to say that the last chance to see it will be at the Lyric Hammersmith on Saturday 25th March but we’ve just heard that those shows are sold out too! So the last chance may well be at Polka Theatre, Wimbledon where we will be performing 6 shows on June 2nd, 3rd and 4th although the Adventure Room there is very small so these are also likely to be full.
What a funny business! Maybe the show is not too old fashioned, not too challenging, but just right!!??